James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 29 December 1799

To Thomas Jefferson

Richmond Decr. 29. 1799

Dear Sir

My promise to write to you before your leaving Albemarle was defeated by a dysenteric attack which laid me up for about a week, and which left me in a State of debility not yet thoroughly removed. My recovery has been much retarded by the job of preparing a vindication of the Resolutions of last Session agst. the replies of the other States, and the sophistries from other quarters.1 The Committee made their report a few days ago, which is now in the press and stands the order of the day for thursday next. A sett of Resolutions proposed by Mr. Giles, instructing the Senators to urge the repeal of the unconstl. acts, the disbanding of the army, and a proper arrangement of the Militia, are also in the press and stand the order of the same day for the same Committee.2 It is supposed that both these papers, the latter perhaps with some modifications, will go through the H. of Delegates. The Senate, owing to inattention & casualties, is so composed as to render the event there not a little uncertain. If an election, to fill the vacancy of Mr. H. Nelson who lately resigned, should send Mr. Andrews in preference to his competitor Mr. Saunders,3 I am told that the parties will be precisely in equilibrio; excepting only one or two, whom circumstances now & then on particular questions, transfer from the wrong to the right side. It is hoped that this contingent fund of votes, will be applicable to the Vindication. On other important questions, there is much less expectation from it. There is a report here that the Legislature of N. Carolina now in Session, have voted the Resolutions of Virginia under their table.4 The report is highly improbable, and I do not believe it. But it is impossible to calculate the progress of delusion, especially in a State where it is said to be under systematic management, and where there is so little either of system or exertion opposed to it. We had a narrow escape yesterday from an increase of pay to the members, which would have been particularly unseasonable & injurious both within & without the State. It was rejected on the third reading by a small majority; and was so much a favorite, with the distant members particularly, that I fear it has left them in rather an ill humour.

The late course of foreign events has probably made the same impression every where.5 If it should not render France less anxious to meet our advances, its good effects will be felt every way. If our Executive & their Envoys be sincere in their pacific objects, it will perhaps supply by their increased anxiety what may be lost on the other side. But there can be little confidence after what has been seen, that the negociation would be influenced by this temper of the Envoys, instead of that which perverted it in the hands of their predecessors. This possibility of failure in the diplomatic experiment, will present the most specious obstacle to an immediate discharge of the army. It would be useful for the Assembly to know how this matter is viewed where you are. Mr. Dawson will be good eno’ to write me on the subject. I intended to have written to him by this mail; but my time has been taken from me till the closing of the mail is approaching. Yrs. affecly.

J M. Jr.

RC (DLC). Docketed by Jefferson, “recd Jan. 7.”

1JM enclosed his Report of 1800 (see JM to Jefferson, 4 Jan. 1800, and The Report of 1800, 7 Jan. 1800, Editorial Note).

2The resolutions presented to the House of Delegates by William Branch Giles were in the form of instructions to Virginia senators Stevens Thomson Mason and Wilson Cary Nicholas. The two senators were instructed to procure a reduction of the army, prevent any augmentation of the navy, oppose any law founded on the idea that the common law was in force under the government of the U.S., and promote the repeal of the Alien and Sedition Acts. The resolutions included a long introductory statement justifying the instructions; a section criticizing the Nonintercourse Act with France as particularly destructive of the tobacco trade was added before passage. The instructions, slightly amended, passed the House on 11 Jan. 1800 by a two-to-one margin (JHDV description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Richmond. Volumes in this series are designated by the month in which the session began. description ends , Dec. 1799 [Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 38954], pp. 42, 77–79, 81–83; Instructions … to Stephens Thompson Mason … [Richmond, (1800?); Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 38953]).

3Hugh Nelson, who represented Elizabeth City, Warwick, and York counties in the Virginia Senate, was replaced by Robert Saunders, who held the seat through the 1804–5 session. Robert Andrews, of the city of Williamsburg, served in the House of Delegates continuously from 1790 through the 1798–99 session (Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , pp. 32–66).

4The Virginia Resolutions, along with those of other states, were committed by both houses of the North Carolina legislature to a joint committee early in the 1799 session. The committee seems not to have made any report (Journal of the Senate of North Carolina, Nov. 1799 [Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 38124], p. 18).

5The autumn of 1799 brought French victories over the combined English and Russian forces in Holland. In addition, the news of Napoleon Bonaparte’s return to France from Egypt reached the U.S. by December 1799 (Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 18 and 19 Dec. 1799; Lefebvre, French Revolution, 2:249–51).

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